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Illinois leaders split on taking Guantánamo detainees at state prison

Idea of transferring Guantánamo detainees to a prison in Illinois has backing of state's top Democrats, but Republican congressmen balk.

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The prison, a maximum-security facility that the federal government would turn into a super-maximum-security facility, was built in 2001 with fanfare and the promise of jobs. Eight years later, the only part of the prison that has opened is the minimum-security wing. Though Thomson has 1,600 cells, it houses fewer than 150 prisoners.

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The idea to sell the prison to the federal government came from Thomson Village President Jerry Hedeler, who in May wrote a letter to Quinn calling attention to the region's economic plight and pleading for attention to be given to the prison. The governor then floated the idea to the federal government, highlighting the prison's safety features, including a 12-foot-high exterior fence and a 15-foot-high interior fence that includes an electric-stun component.

Quinn, Senator Durbin, and other supporters – including some Democratic candidates for Illinois' Senate seat – played down the fears of a security risk, noting that 35 convicted terrorists are already serving time in Illinois prisons and that no one has ever escaped from a federal super-maximum prison.

Such top-level support from the state that would actually house the detainees is likely to give the idea a boost.

But it's too soon to discount the public's concern about security.

"Some voters are going to be swayed by the Republican argument, or just the general fear" around bringing terrorists to the region, says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Chicago. "This isn't without risk to take a stand on the issue." Still, he says, providing strong early support could also help politicians like Quinn, who comes across as being both decisive and working to help the state's faltering economy.

"I suspect [Republicans] will try to make it a campaign issue," says Christopher Mooney, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Springfield. "The question is whether it will have any traction, especially in this jobless recovery, with 3,000 jobs up in a depressed part of the state."


See also:

Who are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other accused terrorists?

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 9/11 trial carries risks

Massachusetts town says yes to Guantanamo detainees


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